Monday, November 28, 2011

"Everybody, hold on to yer' butts"

So, I'm about to abandon whatever modesty, dignity and shame I have left to tell you about today's chemo appointment. Why? Well, because what happened today was pretty funny. And also because I can't just talk about the glamorous sides of chemo, like not having to shave my legs or getting to wear hats inside. I also have to talk about the dirty little secrets of chemo....

The deal with chemo is, it is cumulative. What didn't bother you in round 1 might in any other round. So far, my side effects have remained pretty similar. The first and second times I had chemo administered, the nurses warned about the burning anus shot. I laughed because I am a 12 year old boy and anuses are funny but I didn't actually have any repercussions. Well, my friends, that time is over. Oddly enough, today's nurse did not say a thing - perhaps she inadvertently jinxed me. I wasn't looking at the chemo injection (recall the "no look" policy) but all of the sudden I was on a ring of fire. I literally shot out of my seat. Well, levitated, since I was still getting pretty toxic stuff shot into my arm. Paul sort of freaked out and asked me what was wrong, to which I replied "They weren't kidding about that burning anus shot." His response "Seriously! They just gave you that 10 seconds ago." I guess this is why people progress to IV drug use. I cannot believe how quickly the stuff they put in your veins goes everywhere, and by everywhere, I mean to your bum. I said some swear words, and at that point realized just how much English the Korean nurse spoke, as she chuckled a bit. All in all it calmed down in about 5 minutes. Before they were done the treatment anyway. I'm hoping this isn't the sort of side effect that returns later on.

Also, what the hell kind of side effect is that? I know the drug is meant to help with nausea but honestly what the hell is it doing wreaking havoc on my exit bits. I probably don't actually want to know why or how it does what it does. Anyway, if you see my sense of shame, let it know I'm looking for it.

Other than that snafu, the treatment went well. I'm becoming an old pro, as this marks the first treatment that did not involve me crying. My oncologist said I am an excellent patient and handling the treatments well and living my life (as though there is an option not too! That is why I'm doing this in the first place). She also had a good laugh when I asked if I could or should take red ginseng. Her actual response: "Are you Korean?" You see, Koreans believe in the healing power of red ginseng. I am constantly being told by the ladies at work that I should take it. While I'm open to trying new things, I'm also not too keen on putting semi-medicinal herbs into my body without my doctor's say so. She said I should wait until I am done with chemo so it's good I checked.

In parting, I will leave you with a picture from our most recent Embassy event. The new Ambassador hosted a "Happy Hour" and asked everyone to dress in red and blue. The ladies I worked with decided we should take it to the next level. I don't think they anticipated my finding the kind of ridiculous hair bows I did (you can get ANYTHING in Namdaemun) but they were good sports. Most exciting for me: I wore a blue wig. The Koreans at the Embassy LOVED it. People I don't even talk to wanted to get their picture taken with me. I felt a little like a celebrity. I actually quite like this blue hair, I'll have to wear it again.

Also, as I'm sure you have noted: I am a giant here. My sister must come so we can walk the streets and blow peoples' minds.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Playing the "It Could be Worse" Game

Cancer gives you a lot of time to reflect. If, like me, you are prone to freaking out about your potential sooner-than-expected demise (and you all should be - I'm awesome) you spend a lot of time rationalizing. One of the most effective ways to do this is to think about all the ways that it could be worse. I do this a lot. Turns out, it helps. It provides perspective.

Does getting a cancer diagnosis suck? Why, yes, yes it does.

Is it worse than getting eaten by a shark? No, not really.

See, we're all feeling better.

The weird thing is, I know that I am now in one of those situations that people look to when they play the "it could be worse game." I imagine there are some inner monologues out there that look a lot like this: "Yeah, I have a really terrible boss that I totally despise, but at least I don't have cancer like Laura". I actually don't mind at all. If I can help anyone to feel better about whatever crappy is going on in their life at that exact moment, I'm happy to do that. There should be some upside to cancer, and if the upside happens to be you don't have it, all the more power to you.

The thing I don't like is how people feel they can't complain to me anymore. People! I love complaining. It's akin to gossip - which I also love! But now during conversations individuals are always apologizing and saying things like "I shouldn't even be saying this to you, it's nothing compared to what you have to deal with." Well, I'm here to set the record straight: I still care about what is happening with other people. If I'm being perfectly honest, it would be true to say that I might care more about myself these days than I would normally, but that doesn't mean I don't want to hear about how you have to pay a parking ticket even though you were only 5 minutes late getting to the car. Meaning, you can still complain to me about stuff, even stuff that you feel is trivial because I still give a damn.

Laura, giving a damn since 1980.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Second Verse, Same as the First, a Little Bit Louder and a Little Bit Worse

So I am now seven days out from round 2 of chemo. At this point, I would like to award gold stars to anyone who has ever done more than 4 sessions of chemo. I feel like I got off so lucky comparatively since I only have to do this 4 times. As my loved ones are fond of reminding me, this is short term pain for long term gain and in truth, the pain part is relatively minor. Chemo is not painful. Chemo is, however, a pain in the ass. I'm sure a lot of it is mental. I have always tried to be relatively pious about what I put in my body. I eat well, I drink almost exclusively in extreme moderation, I don't take illicit substances, heck I don't even usually take tylenol. My body is a temple....blah blah get the picture. This mantra is quite antithetical to willingly having poison shot into your system. I've struggled with knowing that the cure is also terrible for you and worry about the unintended consequences and side effects of this decision. I also know that had I not opted for chemo I would have regretted that decision as well. Sometimes the grass is just yellow on both sides of the fence. People should really stop peeing all over the grass.

However, for all that talk of poison, I do know that chemo has come a long way. It isn't nearly so toxic or hard to handle as it once was. And it is completely doable.

I'm sure you are all wondering what chemo really feels like. I wish I could adequately describe it. It is like the flu, only different. It is a more ominous flu, if only because you know what the symptoms really mean. In my case it has also meant crazy heartburn. I never knew what a true suckfest heartburn could be. I would like to apologize to anyone for whom I have not appropriately empathized over this problem. It sucks. I get it now. I'm sorry you have to deal with this for a longer term than the one week stints I've had to cause it is no picnic.

Chemo continues to mean a lot of napping - in the early days I was aiming for at least 2 a day. I like to aim high. Unfortunately, this round chemo has also meant more moping. Depression is another on the long list of potential side effects of chemo. Although, I have to wonder how much that one is chemo related and how much is just the fact that the whole situation kind of sucks. You would have to be a special sort of Pollyanna to run through chemo with smiles and rainbows and lemon drops everywhere. I am not that sort of Pollyanna. Baldness does not bring out my better side.

What does bring out my better side is taking my medication on time, as prescribed. Turns out all those pills they make you take actually do work. And I don't like what happens to me when I forget to take them and they stop doing their jobs. Let's just say that Saturday was not my finest day and part of it may have been spent sitting on Paul, crying. It was sort of like visiting a bald, beardless, very handsome Santa who can't grant you any wishes. Tis the season!

However, I feel that I have turned a corner and the worst of round 2 is behind me. I worked today, I'm still awake, I just ate salsa and it is only mildly burning my throat. Wins all around! By the end of the week I should be in fine form (except for the pesky not having any white blood cells and being vulnerable to illness bit, but that was a breeze last time!). We're nearly half way there team.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

A New Normal

I've sat down to write this blog entry three times. I've been working on it in my head as well. I want this to be a funny entry, because there is some humor to losing your hair. The other side of that coin is the sadness. Sad that I even got cancer. Sad that I have to deal with chemo. Sad that I'm dealing with chemo in an era where it still means you lose all your hair. Sad that I am losing my hair. I've always been a bit vain about my hair. I have really nice hair. I get told this all the time. In fact, a man in Fiji once told me it was my one beauty. I am exactly like Jo from Little Women (that one is for you Jane).

Baldness is not something I ever thought would be a part of my life and certainly not at 30. However, I have had to and will continue to face some hard truths in the coming weeks and years and one of them is this: for the near future, I will be bald, and I mean "Mr. Clean" Bald.

I had been hoping to get a few more days out of my hair but on Saturday it became apparent that I was in denial. From the beginning I told Paul that he might need to be the voice of reason when it came to my hair. While I didn't want to shave my head, I also didn't want to be that lady whose hair looks TERRIBLE but no one has the heart to tell her. Besides, what had started as a hair loss trickle had turned into a mass exodus. You could literally grab handfuls of my hair.

So after a few tears and some self pity we busted out the clippers. As luck would have it, Paul is rather an expert at shaving heads. First step - create a Mohawk (or as my Mohawk friend would say, a fauhawk - he firmly believes the only real Mohawks are the ones on top of Mohwak people). I digress... here, look at me:

Then Paul did this to my head:

Frankly, I don't think I've ever looked better. But I worried about how people at work might react. So, off with the rest. Before the great unveiling I would like to point out a few things about being bald.

1. I can NOT stop touching and rubbing my head. Or picking out the remaining hairs.
2. Hair is an excellent insulator. My head is cold all the time now. I'm slowly working my way up to full time baldness but usually I'm rocking a scarf or hat. In part because I get stared at less when the dome is covered but also because it would be damn cold not to.
3. I think I can handle 6 months of this, but I'm hoping my hair comes back in faster than that.

Now, for the new bald Laura:

I think that this looks okay. I'm not saying I want to commit to this as a real hair style or anything, but I can rock the bald look. Well, mostly. And now, in parting, because no hair loss blog entry would be complete without a fake moustache picture, I give you....The Three Luigis!